Saturday, September 17, 2011

Publish in Print or on the 'Net? Part 5

I didn't sign up with Smashwords right away. Their website mentioned that the story needed to be in Microsoft Word and it needed to be formatted in a very specific way. I decided that the best way to do this was to format the book, sign up with Smashwords, upload the document and cross my fingers.

The title of my book is Funny Stories from My Travels. It started out as a series of Facebook notes. As the series progressed, I began to have a few dedicated followers who my wife jokingly referred to as my "fan club." Soon, however, it became apparent that these few fans were just the vocal ones. More of my friends were actually reading the stories though they never posted any comments. The seed of an idea had been sown and by the time the series ended, the plant was fully grown. I was going to convert the series into a book.

I tried print publishers first but was rejected because my book didn't fit their publishing lines. It seemed no one wanted to take a risk on a non-fiction book from a new and unknown author. After about two years, I thought of self-publishing. I was just about to send off manuscripts for copyright application and also register with the Department of Trade and Industry as a publisher when I learned about Smashwords.

They have a free, downloadable Style Guide written by Smashwords founder Mark Coker. I read through it first and then opened my document. The way I went about this was to open both files next to each other using a feature in Windows called, "Tile Widows Vertically." This opened both files right next to each other on the screen. This allowed me to read the Style Guide and do what it said to do on the document. It was better than alternately minimizing and maximizing windows.

Allow me to digress for a moment because I want to talk about dual-monitor workstations.

If you can afford it, get two monitors for your PC. This way you can open the Style Guide on one monitor and your document on the other monitor and you'll have two full screen sized documents in view. It'll make things so much easier. Since I have only one monitor, I had to use the previous technique. This technique also works well for other jobs which I'll let you discover for yourself.

Okay, back to the topic.

The Style Guide was easy enough to follow though it could have been written better. A new and better version is out but, at the time, the old version was all that was available. It described how to format the book, but it also said why it should be formatted that way which made it easier to accept and understand. Fortunately, I was already using most of the formatting methods described in the guide so adapting the book was easy for me.

Formatting took about five days—couldn't devote a lot of time to it—and I began thinking about what kind of cover I would like to put on the book. Originally, I had thought of a restaurant scene where I would be seated holding up a napkin with a kid's drawing of a cow and a cabbage. Included in the picture would be a waitress with a surprised or incredulous expression. I was undecided if she was going to be young and slim or middle-aged and slightly stout. (",)

Scanning old photos one day, I spotted an old photograph. It was a picture of a small plane—eight or ten seater—and several people were posing beside it, myself included. One of the stories in the book was about this plane and its pilots. I thought it would be good enough.

I uploaded the book and cover to Smashwords and waited for a message. It took just a few minutes. There were no errors. That was it, I was a published author. I'd done it! My first customer bought a copy about a week later. Approximately two months later, the book was admitted into the Premium Catalog which meant it was going to be distributed to the Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple, Diesel and Scrollmotion, all ebook retailers.

There's another free book from Smashwords, Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, which tells you how to market your book. Selling isn't my favorite pastime but if I want my book to sell, I'll have to do something. Just putting the book on the shelf isn't going to cut it. This is going to be a steep learning curve but it's got to be done.

I'm already working on my next books...yes, it's plural. I've got two books in the works, one that I've been working on and off for several months and another, shorter one which I intend to offer for free. Uh huh, it's going to be free. You can actually put your book on Smashwords for free distribution. If you want to know why people would do this, read the FAQ on pricing.

I still haven't quite given up getting my book published on paper. I once tried printing a book, making a cover and binding it, all by hand, and I must say, a physical book still has a certain charm over a book in a reader.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Publish in Print or on the 'Net? Part 4

A friend of mine had added me to the ResearchWritingCenter.com group on Facebook and I've come to value the writing tips from their sister website, www.dailywritingtips.com. One day, I saw a comment about www.smashwords.com, an ebook distribution website. I got curious enough to visit it.

Curiosity turned to interest as I kept reading. Basically, they were promising to take my book, convert it into different formats that would be readable on the Kindle, the iPad/iPhone, the Sony Reader and more. They would put the book on their "shelves" for people to see and, hopefully, buy. They would also distribute it to several ebookstores like the Apple iBookstore, the Sony Reader Store, the Kobo eBook Store, and others.

As I read, I was looking for something like, "it will only cost you...," but there was none to be found. What were they saying? I could publish for free? It sounded unbelievable. And what's this? Free ISBN? Were these guys for real?

Aha! One of the reasons why they were free was that they will accept your book even with grammatical or spelling errors. Smashwords was a distributor, not a publisher. They will not edit or proofread your book. That was your responsibility. If your book is poorly written, it won't sell, it was a simple as that.

They also do not actively market your book. They'll put it on their shelves and they'll send it to other distributors who will put it on their shelves. You'll probably get some sales from people who browse through these virtual bookstores but, if you want your book to really sell, you'll have to do the marketing yourself. I wondered if New York Times reviewed ebooks.

85% royalties! Wow! That was way, way more than the 5-15% that print book publishers gave authors and you didn't have to go through all the rigamarole of submitting and rejection. While I admire the tenacity of people like Kathryn Stockett (The Help) who endured 60 rejections in three-and-a-half years before her book was finally accepted, I wasn't willing to go through the same path and receive just 5-15% of the price of the book.

I bookmarked the website and took a little time to think. It wouldn't hurt to try. I could go through the motions and if they suddenly ask for money or too much sensitive information, I could stop and forget about it. I made the decision to go for it.